Marguerite-Blanch Thibodeau Cyr (1738-1810), a healer, midwife, and pioneer, was part of the migration from the French settlements of Acadia to Madawaska Territory on the south side of the St. John River Valley in the State of Maine. She was born in Beaubassin (now Amherst, Nova Scotia), during the era when France and England were fighting each other for control of North America. Born to Jean-Baptiste Thibodeau and Marie LeBlanc, she grew up on her family’s homeland immersed in French traditions and attending mass at the local Catholic church.
In 1755 when she was seventeen, Marguerite and her family were forced by the British to flee north to a small Acadian settlement called St. Louis de Kamouraska, about 100 miles from Quebec City. The British demanded that Acadians sign a new oath of allegiance to England, swearing loyalty to King George II and pledging to take up arms against any French settlers who might threaten English authority. Marguerite’s father refused to do this, causing them to flee.
In 1760 she married Joseph-Francois Cyr, also from Beaubassin. She gave birth to seven children over an eleven year span; only four lived into adulthood. Later to escape harassment from the English, her family, including Joseph’s extended family, moved to Ekoupag (now Maugerville, New Brunswick). After the American Revolution, the governor of Nova Scotia confiscated Acadian farms and granted the lands to former American Loyalists. The Cyrs appealed to the Governor-General of Canada for land grants in Madawaska territory. In 1785 they were granted land on the south side of the St. John River below the Great Falls, land that eventually became part of the State of Maine.
As pioneers, the small settlements had to start from scratch again and live self-sufficiently. During the 1797 winter, the Year of the Black Famine, the community faced starvation. When the men went off looking for game, Tante Blanche, as she was now known by her community because of her work as a healer and midwife, went from house to house bringing support to each family. She continued to bring her skills to the community until her death in Van Buren in 1810. In nearby St. David, in the town of Madawaska, on the south banks of the St. John River, the Madawaska Centennial Log Cabin has been renamed the Tante Blanche Historic Museum. It sits behind the Madawaska Historical Society honoring Tante Blanche, la vrai mere de Madawaska.
Kennedy, Kate. “Marguerite-Blanche Thibodeau Cyr.” More than Petticoats: Remarkable Maine Women. Guilford, Conn. Pequot Press. 2005, pp. 1-9.
Contributed by Jannene Bidwell, Lisbon Falls, Maine, 2008.